Provost Kletzer discusses Target of Opportunity initiative

Echo: Could you talk about the new recruitment program that you are developing? Who has been involved in the process and what aspects of the hiring process does it focus on?

Provost Kletzer: It is called the Target of Opportunity Faculty Hiring Initiative, so in the title, it is centrally focused on faculty, not staff yet. “Target of opportunity” is a phrase used by a number of colleges and universities to intentionally state an objective of increasing the diversity amongst the faculty. It mirrors the same values that we talk about in terms of student diversity. In fact, they work together….We want to have a companion piece of diverse faculty for a diverse student body. We want to live those values of inclusiveness and opportunity.

On the faculty side…we also gain, from differences in culture and identity and circumstance, teaching pedagogical differences. We get a richer curriculum, a richer educational program. Faculty hiring happens really slowly. We hire faculty in different departments and programs based on what the college identifies as strategic programs….It’s quite common on the tenure track side to hire two, three or four people a year, and some of those are not new faculty but rather replacement faculty. Somebody retires; we replace them, not always in the same department or program. If somebody resigns, we replace them. It’s a process…that is slow, deliberate and intentional. We think a lot about where every single new faculty position goes.

In most cases, in liberal arts colleges, when people are tenured, they never leave; they’re here until retirement. So, whom we hire looks very much like who we’ll tenure. It’s not 100 percent guaranteed, but who we tenure we’ll have with us for 20 and 30 years, so these are really deep investments….It makes every sense in the world to do this deliberately, slowly, and intentionally, and we do it with a lot of consultation.

We also do it with full embrace of equal opportunity….We post ads. Those ads are posted on Colby websites, on disciplinary websites, in national publications. We welcome applications broadly, nationally and internationally. From the time we decide to hire—in, let’s say, English—to the time somebody actually starts in the English department could be 18 months.

In my mind, we’re not as diverse amongst the faculty as I want us to be. NESCAC is not a compelling comparison group. NESCAC is a sports conference, but we always compare ourselves to NESCAC. The easiest way to compare  is to say, “What’s the representation of faculty of color in NESCAC?” Again, you have to be generous to allow that to be the relevant comparison group, but it’s the easiest one to pull out of my pocket. We have the lowest percentage of faculty of color amongst full time faculty compared to any other NESCAC. That’s not where I want us to be.

We want to have a more diverse faculty, and out of that desire to do that, a target of opportunity hiring initiative says that while we will continue to hire using an open search, we also want departments and programs, meaning the faculty members in them, when they identify candidates from underrepresented groups….We want to have a way for the institution to say, “Make the case on how this person is going to contribute to Colby…and help us become a more diverse faculty.” If a department can make a case…we would turn around and say, if they’ve shown us…that [the candidates] meet our standards of quality, we’ll let them, in some sense, short-circuit this long, 18-month hiring process. That’s what target of opportunity does. It’s more aggressive….It helps colleges and universities move faster. If we used only the normal process, it could take us years and years. Fifteen years from now, [our faculty makeup] would probably look pretty similar to what it is today.

Target of opportunity, to me, is a meaningful addition to the way we hire. I also want us to look really thoroughly at the ways we hire. Hiring is tricky. It’s very common at any place…for people to have the most comfort in hiring people who are the most like them. That’s not an effective way to diversify. I want us, as a faculty, to come together and think very intentionally about how it is we write ads, where we post ads, how we actively call graduate placement officers at the best PhD schools and find out who’s going to be on the market and who’s going to be available, and not passively wait for people to apply for our jobs, but to actively go out there and recruit.

E: Do you think that the current diversity issue has to do more with Colby’s hiring process or Colby not being attractive to a diverse group of people?

PK: I think it’s probably a bit of a number of things….We are at the bottom of NESCAC [in terms of diversity]. No one in the NESCAC looks all that great, though.  In the NESCAC, it ranges from about 20 percent faculty of color as a high to about 12 percent at its lowest. I don’t want us to be at 12 or 14 percent, but I would argue that 20 percent is not a deeply diverse faculty either.

Some of it is the ways we recruit, and I can only speak for Colby. Some of it is our way of recruiting that deserve scrutiny and, in all likelihood, should be changed. I also recognize where we are, and I know…that our location increasingly poses challenges, especially because a lot of people coming out of graduate school and looking for jobs are…also looking as part of a family….Our small labor market and being part of a small college is a real hindrance to us. It’s a disadvantage because Waterville is not near an urban setting, and Colby is a small college. So, whether it’s an urban setting which would provide more jobs for a non-academic partner or an academic job at a small college, to find two of those is difficult.

Increasingly, I think, Colby and Waterville is a disadvantage, much more so than 20 years ago….As we think about Colby’s efforts in downtown Waterville—if we can help Waterville grow, that helps us on the faculty recruiting side, if we make Waterville an ever more attractive location.

E: How will this program affect our community?

PK: I’m hoping that we’re successful at both looking at our recruiting practices, and making sure we are following the most pertinent, best practices, as well as target of opportunity initiative. I hope that it really helps us diversify our faculty. It will make us a stronger community. We will be a stronger place to come learn. Our educational program will be stronger. We will increasingly be…able to help train students for a diverse workforce [and] for democratic societies, because we will be doing that in an environment that fully reflects what…the world looks like. I think it makes us a better place without question. The real risk for me is we want to be successful in it, and if we are successful in it, there will be enormous advantages to come to Colby and to Waterville.

E: Have you received responses to this initiative so far and how do you plan to respond to people who might be upset about this?

PK: I have not encountered anyone upset about it. People are mostly curious about how it works….We first introduced [the initiative] at the January faculty meeting. This is an issue that President Greene had been thinking about for some time, and I had, in some sense, been separately thinking about this for some time. I had been playing around with how to describe it, and we brought a very early draft to the January faculty meeting and discussed it there.

Every month, I meet with the department chairs and program directors, so we brought it to that group…the first week of February….In that same week, we also brought it to the educational policy committee of the Board of Trustees….People seem comfortable with the idea, and in fact, are really positively disposed to the goals….Honestly, most of the questions have been, “How are you going to do it?”….I [have] gotten the occasional—I count two of them—question, “What does this do for quality?” and there’s no budging here on quality. I would say the only way to have the highest quality faculty is to make sure we have the most inclusive process. So, I think this enhances our quality. I don’t actually—and have never agreed—that there are tradeoffs.…This is about continuing to hire faculty who are committed to being teachers and scholars here at Colby. We just want to make sure we have the broadest representation of circumstances…that are reflected in our student body and are reflected in the world….We haven’t gotten objections….That’s not to say that something won’t come up, but at this point, it’s all been positive.

E: Are students involved in developing this program?

PK: Not in developing the program. Students are often involved in our recruiting efforts. When we bring a job candidate to campus, students most often are the lunch dates….Every single department involves students….In departments that have candidate presentations, students are in the room, and we solicit student feedback. So, nothing changes in terms of the importance to us of student feedback when we have job candidates on campus. The design of the program is quite honestly an administrative task….How we actually recruit is one task that falls solely to administration.

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